Willard Brown, born 6/26/15, is said to have fit the bill of what is called a “five tool” baseball player. A superb fielding outfielder; Brown ran the bases with blazing speed, had a strong throwing arm, and could hit for a high average with home run power. Many ascribed to him by the nickname “Home Run” Brown. He played for the Kansas City Monarchs mostly throughout his Negro League career (1935 – 1950). He served in the military (1944 – 1945) during World War II and briefly played Major League baseball in 1947 with the St. Louis Browns. On August 13, 1947 Brown became the first African-American to hit a home run in the American League.
In 2006, Willard Brown and fifteen other individuals from the Negro League baseball era were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I profile the 2006 inductees in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. The following is a brief book exert from my profile of Willard Brown:
“Brown had a tendency to appear bored during games. When
that happened it is said he would take a magazine with him to the
outfield to read between pitches. And sometimes he would walk
instead of running to his outfield position, holding up the start of an
inning. This gave an impression of Brown by some as having a
“prima donna” attitude.
But former teammate and manager Buck O’Neil said, “Willard
was so talented, he did not look as if he was hustling. Everything
looked so easy for him.” Brown’s extreme talent made it appear he
did things effortlessly. While most players ran around the bases, he
seemed to glide. The exhaustion of the game would be evident on
most players, but it appeared Brown hardly broke a sweat. O’Neil
felt that no matter what “Home Run” Brown did, people thought he
could do a little more because of his enormous talent.
But Negro League fans appreciated the play of Willard Brown.
They selected him to participate in six Negro League East‐West All
Star Games. In ten All Star plate appearances Brown had five hits.
As an indication of Negro League baseball’s relative prosperity
after surviving the economic depression of the late 1920s and
1930s, the Negro League World Series was played in 1942. There
had not been one since 1927. The 1942 fall classic saw the two
most recognized Negro League franchises tangle, the Kansas City
Monarchs against the Homestead Grays. Willard Brown was one of
the series’ hitting stars as the Monarchs swept the Grays four
games to none. He batted .412 (7 hits in 17 at bats) with one double,
one triple, and of course one home run.”
To read more about Willard Brown and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
Cumberland “Cum” Willis Posey, born June 20, 1891 began his baseball career playing with a black team in his hometown of Homestead, Pennsylvania; the Homestead Grays in 1911. After becoming the team’s owner in 1920, Posey had turned the Homestead Grays into one of the most renowned and successful Negro League Baseball franchises by the time he died in 1946. From 1937 – 1945, the Grays finished first in the Negro National League eight times and played in four Negro League World Series, winning two: 1943 and 1944.
In 2006, Cum Posey and fifteen other individuals from the Negro League baseball era were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I profile the 2006 inductees in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. The following is an exert from my book with a preview of the chapter about Posey:
“As the country’s economic condition worsened, Posey struggled
to pay the salaries of his ball players in 1932. He also faced a major
challenge from the new black team in Pittsburgh started by Gus
Greenlee a night club/restaurant owner and numbers operator, the
Pittsburgh Crawfords. He used a tactic Posey himself employed to
steal players from other teams. Greenlee offered the Grays’ best
players more money than Posey could pay them. Josh Gibson, Oscar
Charleston, and three other players took Greenlee’s offer and
signed with the Crawfords. Other players for the Grays also left for
Determined to not let his team die, Cum Posey formed a
business partnership in 1934 with Rufus “Sonnyman” Jackson,
Homestead’s main black numbers operator. Posey operated the
club while Jackson provided the financial backing. Many black
sportswriters thought partnering with whom some called “black
mobsters” hurt Negro League baseball’s image with the fans. But
Posey and the other black owners said financial backing from
those men did not influence the teams’ performance on the field.
The numbers bosses were just fans who loved the game. The truth
was that if it were not for their investment Negro professional
baseball may not have survived.
Jackson’s financial backing allowed Posey to step away from
being the field manager and devote all his time to rebuilding the
team. He brought on Buck Leonard in 1934 as the first step of
putting together what would be the most dominant Negro League
team in the late 1930s and 1940s. The next year the Grays joined
the Negro National League (NNL). Despite Posey’s rebuilding
efforts, the team could not finish ahead of the Pittsburgh Crawfords.
In 1937 Posey got Josh Gibson back in a trade with his crosstown
rival. Part of the trade, as rumored, included “Sonnyman” Jackson
paying off a gambling debt of the Crawfords’ owner. By getting back
Gibson, Posey had the final piece to add to Leonard and the other players he assembled to
begin the Grays’ winning tradition.”
To read more about Cum Posey and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
King Solomon “Sol” White wrote about the plight of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century African-American professional baseball player, of which he himself experienced. Born June 12, 1868 in Bellaire, Ohio, White played with teams in the minor league system of white professional baseball in the 1880s. In the 1890s when the color line became solidified banning African-American and dark-skinned Hispanics, he then played with a number of the best Negro baseball teams and later the co-owner/manager of the Philadelphia Giants, one of the best black teams of the early 1900s. His book written in 1907, “History of Colored Baseball”, gives a picture of obstacles he and other African-American professional baseball players faced as the game began its journey to become “the National Pastime”.
In 2006, Sol White and fifteen other individuals from the Negro League baseball era were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I profile the 2006 inductees in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. The following is a book exert from my profile of Sol White:
“In 1890 Sol White played for the Monarchs of York,
Pennsylvania. The team’s owner, J. Monroe Kreiter, had also
attracted many of the players from the previous year’s Cuban
Giants. Failing in their attempt to get higher salaries from the
Giants’ owner, John M. Bright, the players were easily lured away by
the money that Kreiter offered. The Monarchs represented the city
of York in the Eastern Interstate League. It would be one of the last
breaks in the color line.
White played briefly in 1895 with Fort Wayne, Indiana of the
Western Interstate League. It would be the last time he played on an
integrated team. As the 1890s came to a close there were no black
players in organized white baseball. The ‘invisible color line” had
been set and would stay intact for over 40 years.
With the door to Major League professional baseball closed for
African-American players, Sol White continued his career in the
1890s with teams that were a part of Negro League baseball’s
early beginnings. They were African-American teams that played
small town white semi‐pro teams, other black teams, and anyone
that wanted to play them. No official Negro League existed at that
time. He played for the Cuban Giants in 1893 –1894, the Page
Fence Giants in 1895, the Cuban X Giants in 1896 –1899, and the
Chicago Columbia Giants in 1900. All of which were top African
American professional teams of that period.
In 1902 White joined forces with white sportswriter H. Walter
Schlichter to start a new black team, the Philadelphia Giants. As co-owner,
team manager, and one of the team’ top players, White
built what some called one of the best black teams of the new
century’ first ten years. Some of the best black players of that time
such as Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Charlie Grant, Grant “Home Run Johnson”
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
Teammates would say when Negro League power hitter George “Mule” Suttles, born March 31, 1900 or 1901, swung his bat at a pitch they could feel the earth shake. “Kick Mule, Kick Mule”, is what fans and teammates would chant when “Mule” came up to bat. The fifty ounce bat he swung was a testament to his strength.
Although the year of his birth is in dispute one thing is not, other than Josh Gibson; no other power slugger was feared by Negro League pitchers more than “Mule”. Suttles may not have hit more home runs than Gibson, but he could hit them as far.
The following about Suttles is an excerpt from my book, Last Train in Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era:
“Because of the lack of documented Negro League baseball statistics, the total number of home runs hit by Suttles is not known. Supposedly, he led the Negro National League in round trippers twice. There is an eyewitness account of a 500 foot home run he hit over the centerfield fence at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. Hall of Fame Negro League shortstop Willie Wells frequently told the story of a 600 foot home run “Mule” hit at Havana’s Tropical Park while playing in the Cuban Winter League. The ball carried out of the stadium and over the heads of the Cuban soldiers on horseback doing crowd control duty behind the fence. Afterwards, a marker was supposedly placed at the spot the ball landed commemorating “Mule’s” blast. Another version of that home run has it landing in the ocean.
Chico Renfro, former Kansas City Monarch’s infielder and longtime sports editor recalled, “Suttles had the rawest power of any player I’ve ever seen.” Since the major white newspapers mainly ignored Negro League baseball, “Mule” was not included when the Major League power hitters of that time ‐ Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx, and others, were given national media recognition. However, “Mule” was popular among Negro League baseball fans because they knew the stories about his home run power.”
To read more about “Mule” Suttles and the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
Effa Manley, born March 27, 1897, is the only woman elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Inducted in 2006, Mrs. Manley and her husband Abe were the owners of the Newark Eagles; one of the most renowned Negro League baseball teams (1936 – 1949). A Caucasian thought to be black because she was raised in an African-American family, Mrs. Manley ran the day-to-day operations of the team. Very outspoken and opinionated, she had to fight not only racism but also the male chauvinist attitudes of the other Negro League baseball owners to be successful. Her team won the 1946 Negro League World Series Championship.
The following about Mrs. Manley is an excerpt from my book, Last Train in Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era:
“While attending the 1932 World Series she met her husband,
Abraham Manley, who was also an avid baseball fan and at least 12
‐ 15 years her senior. Manley was a real estate investor and also
supposedly ran one of the biggest illegal “numbers” game
operations in Newark. The success of his endeavors would provide
the funds for him and his wife’s entry into Negro League baseball.
They married in 1935. He was the second of four husbands Effa
would have in her lifetime.
In that same year they formed a Negro League team in
Brooklyn called the “Eagles”. Mrs. Manley said the name came from
her husband’s hopes that “they would fly high.” From the very
beginning as baseball team owners, the Manleys had a clearly
defined partnership, one she described as perfect. Abe provided
the money and despite having no prior financial experience, Effa
took an active role as co‐owner by handling the day-to-day
operations of the team. Mrs. Manley had what proved to be natural
business instincts and ownership skills. She did it all: arranged
playing schedules, planned team travel, handled payroll, bought
equipment, negotiated player contracts, and handled publicity. The
team played their home games at Ebbets Field, home of Brooklyn’s
Major League team, the Dodgers.”
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: John Henry Russell.
Although primarily a second baseman, John Henry Russell’s versatility gave him the ability to also play first base, third base, or shortstop during his 12 year Negro League baseball career (1923 – 1934). Born February 24, 1898 in Dolcito, Alabama, he gained the reputation of being excellent on defense by using quick hands and feet combined with a strong throwing arm. He did not consistently have a high batting average, but his speed made him a better than average baserunner.
After starting his career with the Memphis Red Sox, Russell played with the St. Louis Stars (1926 – 1930). He paired with Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells for the Stars to have one of the best double play combinations in the Negro Leagues during that time. St. Louis, who also had Hall of Fame center fielder James “Cool Papa” Bell and Hall of Fame first baseman George “Mule” Suttles, won the Negro National League championship in 1928 and 1930.
While with the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1931 – 1933), Russell received honor from Negro League fans by being selected to play in the inaugural East-West All Star Game. On that September 10th at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, Russell shared the field with such Negro League greats as Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, and others.
Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.
To read more about the Negro League Baseball Era Last Train To Cooperstown
In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: Raymond Brown.
Like all pitchers in Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s, Raymond Brown’s accomplishments on the mound were overshadowed by the talent, charismatic personality, and showmanship of Satchel Paige. However Brown, born on February 23, 1908 in Algiers, Ohio, helped pitch the Homestead Grays to eight Negro National League (NNL) pennants and two Negro League World Series championships.
In 2006, Raymond Brown was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The following is an excerpt about him from my book, Last Train in Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era.
”Of the five players the sportswriters suggested to the Pirates,
Brown has received the least notoriety in his career. Like other
Negro League hurlers, Raymond Brown’s abilities on the mound
were overshadowed by the great Satchel Paige. The most famous
pitcher in Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s,
Paige’s accomplishments and showmanship antics on the mound
were well known. Articles on him appeared not only in Negro
newspapers, but also in large national ones that seldom carried
anything about black baseball. Because of their refusal to cover the
Negro Leagues, those newspapers missed heralding that no Negro League pitcher won
more than Raymond Brown. When Brown
pitched his Homestead Grays knew they had a great chance for
victory. If he had possessed some of Paige’s talent for showmanship
on the mound, Brown would have received more of Satchel’s fame.
A versatile athlete, Brown made his debut into the world in
Algers, Ohio on February 22 or 23, 1908. Located in western Ohio,
the town is half the distance between Toledo and Dayton. He used
his 6’1”, 195 pound frame to become an all‐state basketball center
in high school. But that did not distract him from playing the game
he loved ‐ baseball. Brown could not only pitch, but he swung a
solid bat. Early in his career he played outfield on days he had not
been scheduled to pitch. The switch hitter also frequently pinch hit.”
After leaving Negro League baseball in 1946, Brown pitched first in the Mexican League and then during the early 1950’s in Canadian semi-professional leagues
Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.
To read more about Raymond Brown and the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: James “Cool Papa” Bell.
In February 13, 1974; Negro League outfielder James “Cool Papa” was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Many of the stories describing Bell’s speed were exaggerations (“He turned off the light switch and he got in the bed before the lights went off”). But; clocked at 12 seconds circling all the bases, he is considered one of the fastest runners in all baseball history.
Bell started his playing career as a pitcher. His manager called him “Cool Papa” because he kept his composure during pressure situations on the mound. The nickname stayed with Bell even though he hurt his pitching arm and played outfield the rest of his career.
His Negro League baseball career spanned three decades (1922 – 1946).
From 1922 – 1931 he played for the St. Louis Stars. He teamed with fellow members of the Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells and first baseman George “Mules” Suttles to help the team win three National Negro League championships (1928, 1930 – 1931).
While in his 30’s, Bell wore the uniform of the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1933 – 1938); one of the best teams assembled in Negro League history. Hall of Fame players Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Jud Wilson were teammates of Bell at times during this period. The Crawfords were National Negro League champions in 1935.
Still playing while in his 40’s, Bell helped the Homestead Grays win Negro League World Series championships in 1943 and 1944.
Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but ii is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
Happy Birthday Henry Aaron!
Today marks the eighty-third birthday of the Hall of Fame (inducted in 1982) outfielder. Born February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama; Aaron signed with the Boston Braves in 1952 after playing half of a season with the Negro League baseball Indianapolis Clowns. Aaron spent two years destroying pitchers in the Braves’ minor league system. While one of the first African Americans in the Southern Atlantic League (Sally League) in 1953, he hit .362 with 22 home runs and won the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. However, Aaron thought at best he would be assigned to the Braves’ Triple A team in Toledo, Ohio.
On March 3, 1954 during an exhibition game in Florida; Milwaukee Braves outfielder Bobby Thomson broke his ankle sliding into second base on a force play. Three years after his pennant clinching home run for the New York Giants, Thomson had come to the Braves in a trade to add power to their line-up. It was a forgone conclusion when spring training began that the Braves’ opening day outfield would be Thomson along with Billy Bruton, and Andy Pafko. But with Thomson out for with a triple fractured ankle, the Braves had to change their plan.
With the previous year’s reserve outfielder Jim Pendleton not reporting to spring training in an effort to get a salary increase, the Braves’ turned to Aaron. The next day in his first time in the starting outfield, he hit a home run. Exceeding his expectations, Aaron left spring training as the Braves opening day left fielder.
Aaron went hitless in five at bats during the season opener in Cincinnati on April 13, but got two hits in the Braves home opener on April 15. In St. Louis on April 23 against Cardinal pitcher Vic Raschi, Aaron hit his first Major League home run. He finished 1954, his rookie season, batting .282 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year award voting behind Gene Conley, Ernie Banks, and Wally Moon.
Cristobal Torriente, like most of the 2006 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees from Negro League baseball, had not been well-known to many baseball fans. That includes a long time one such as yours truly. His feats on the diamond had not been celebrated as contributions to Negro League lore similar to those of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, James “Cool Papa” Bell and the other Negro League legends that had previously been enshrined in Cooperstown. But Torreinte deserved Hall of Fame recognition and he received it in 2006.
Born in Cienfuegos, Cuba on November 16, 1893, Torriente saw a few of his white countrymen play Major League baseball. However, he could not due to the dark hue of his skin. Just like African-American professional baseball players for nearly half of the 20th Century, he could not cross Major League baseball’s “invisible color line”. Instead, Torriente showcased his baseball talents in the Negro Leagues.
In a poll of former Negro League players and sportswriters conducted in the early 1950s, Cristobal Torriente was named one of the best outfielders to play in the Negro Leagues. Known as the “Cuban Strongman, the left-handed slugger stood 5’11”, 185 pounds, with broad shoulders, and a rifle for a throwing arm.
The following is an excerpt from my book, Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, which profiles the Hall of Fame outfielder:
“Pitchers had a hard time getting him out due to his quick,
powerful swing. They could not throw strikes pass him. Getting him
to swing at pitches out of the strike zone also did not work because
the Cuban was a notorious bad ball hitter. Facing him was an
experience pitchers dreaded.
Many stories have been told as a testimony of the Cuban’s
power when batting. One is about a line drive he hit off the right
field wall in Indianapolis against the ABCs. Supposedly the ball was
hit so hard, it got to the wall so fast, the right fielder was able to
throw the speedy Torriente out at first base. Another story is about
a ball he supposedly hit in Kansas City against the Monarchs. It
smashed a clock 17 feet above the centerfield fence. According to
Torriente’s American Giant teammate shortstop Bob Williams,
“The hand of the clock started going round and round.” It is doubtful
all the stories of balls hit by Torriente are true. But there is no
doubt he was one of the best hitters seen by Negro League fans.
Little is known about the early life of Cristobal Torriente in
Cuba. From most information, he was born in 1893 in Cienfuegos.
His family worked in the fields and boiler houses of the area’s sugar
mills. By 17 he was in the Cuban Army displaying his physical
strength by loading heavy guns onto mules; while also blasting
baseballs around local sandlots.
After being a young phenomenon in the 1913 Cuban Winter
League, the 19 year old Torriente joined the Cuban Stars and played
his first season in the United States. The Stars were a traveling team
that played mainly against independent black professional baseball
teams. No official African American league existed at the time, but
the Stars competed against such black teams as the New York
Lincoln Giants, New York Lincoln Stars, Chicago American Giants,
and others. The change in surroundings did not hinder Torriente.
He quickly began to establish himself as the team’s hitting star
going up against the likes of “Smokey Joe” Williams, “Cannonball”
Dick Redding, ”Big Bill” Gatewood, and other Negro League
pitchers. By many accounts, Torriente hit .383 that first year. And if
the Stars’ opponents believed that was just rookie luck, the strong
Cuban put that to rest the next season by again hitting over .300. In
his years with the Cuban Stars, he reportedly never hit less than
For more of Cristobal Torriente’s Negro League baseball story, read Last Train to Cooperstown:The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. For more information, go to http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.